Out of Africa – International Education Consultancy in Kenya
Remember that last week in February? Weather was pretty awful wasn’t it?
Well no actually. Not for me it wasn’t. Because I was in Kenya for a week. And yes, that does make me a smug git. But it also makes me a smug git with a suntan in March so I don’t care. And it makes me someone whose family now owns a variety of bead related trinkets and a small drum. (At least I managed to resist the wooden salad servers and the carved long wooden face masks – the other traditional accoutrements of the tourist who has done East Africa.)
And I was there for work, not for a holiday, so it wasn’t all elephants and four wheel drives. Actually there were quite a few elephants and four wheel drives at the end of the week to be honest. Plus a few giraffes. But mostly it was work. And I can ramp up the ‘smug git’ factor another notch, because it’s not the first time I’ve worked there having first visited about eighteen months ago.
A School in Nairobi
I was back doing international consultancy at a primary school in Nairobi with staff from a number of schools from Kenya and also from Tanzania. If you’ve ever felt as if the journey to a training course has been a bit long, then consider the teachers from Tanzania for whom it took around seven hours to get to the school hosting the training. No pressure on me to deliver something worth their time then…
The first training session focused on reasoning and problem solving in maths and the other session was about challenge for the most able pupils. It was this second session that led to the interesting conversation in the evening.
Setting the Scene
Let me set the scene. The school has its own accommodation for visitors, a coffee shop and two bars that serve food and drink into the night. So I was having to put up with walking about 50 metres from work to get to my room and then walk another whole 50 metres or so to sit in the open sided bar, looking out over the school sports field as the black kites wheeled and circled, scavenging for any food dropped by the children who stayed for the numerous after-school sports activities, whilst eating freshly cooked food and reacquainting myself with a nice cold Tusker lager. All this whilst the sun went down over the bustling city, a light wind blew in the fronds of the trees and disturbed the vibrant pink and orange blossoms, myriads of insects began the night chorus, and the temperature finally dropped to slightly below 25 degrees. But don’t worry – being a consummate professional, I’m willing to put up with these kind of conditions if it means getting the job done. No pain, no gain and all that.
So maybe the setting was a little different from a typical staff room in England, but this was where many of the teachers congregate in the evenings and the talk turned to a discussion about the most able pupils.
And despite the fact that there were teachers from England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Kenya and the USA all involved at some point, and some were primary practitioners and others taught secondary subjects, the general consensus was that there are a number of issues to bear in mind when considering the most able pupils. None of these were revolutionary, but it was noticeable that they were shared, and often shared with a passion, regardless of where teachers had trained, what age pupils they taught or where in the world they had taught in the past.
Different Starting Points
For a start the term ’most able’ was not liked at all, mainly because of the possible implication that a pupil was good at everything or good at all areas of a subject. It was believed that this can lead to a lack of rigour in assessment, with assumption trumping accuracy. Instead the phrase ‘different starting point’ was preferred (ring any bells with RAISEonline aficionados?) with the emphasis on proving that the starting point is accurate for all pupils thorough ongoing rigorous assessment. Let the children surprise you with what they can (or can’t) do.
Another key issue was that of children labelling themselves as ‘most able’. Everyone knows that children see through the charade of naming ability groups after colours, animals, trees or shapes. You might as well just say, “…and the most able will be working at the table by the window, while the less able will be working with Mrs Smith and you know very well why don’t you?”
And although this sounds abhorrent from the less able child’s point of view, it can also be detrimental to the most able pupils. They can develop real issues if work is not ‘easy’ because everything they have experienced and been told has conditioned them into thinking they should be good at it. So they can develop a lack of resilience or avoidance strategies when the going gets tough.
Carol Dweck and Growth Mind-set
Many school leaders talk about Carol Dweck and growth mindset, ensuring teachers are praising the effort and not the ‘cleverness’, but the feeling was that not many schools actually consistently walk the growth mind-set talk.
Now you may not agree with this at all. But a lot of staff meeting at a school thousands of miles away, many of whom had in turn travelled thousands of miles to be there, all seemed to share very similar views.
Continue the Discussion
So if you’d like to discuss this further or if you would like to find out more about Focus Education International Consultancy, feel free to buy us both tickets to Nairobi. I’ll bring the sun cream and tourist guide. Alternatively, I do occasionally tweet via @Focustn or come and have a chat at a training course or conference, I can show you my photos of the giraffes. You can also contact the Focus Education on 01457 821 818 or find out more about Focus international services here.
Feedback: ‘The Braeburn Group of International Schools (Kenya and Tanzania), has a long-standing relationship with Focus Education. In recent years we have run training courses using consultants to assist with rolling out New Curriculum, Mastery, provision for EAL, Leadership and Assessment. The InSeT facilitators are a pleasure to work with; extremely professional whilst maintaining a friendly, approachable manner. The content has a good balance of theory and practical with a focus on ensuring teachers are able to leave the training with ideas they can put into practice straight away. The impact of the training is always very positive as the material is current and relevant so teachers feel they are kept up-to-date with developments in Education in the UK. We also appreciate the published materials Focus produces to support the training. The providers are always willing to go the extra mile to give access to more resources and give their contacts for teachers to follow up with them should they have any further questions. We highly recommend Focus as InSeT providers for International Schools.’
To book or enquire about Focus consultancy in your international or UK based school, please click here.
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Tim has been a headteacher with a successful track record; his last school had a reputation for innovation and their initiatives have been utilised by others and presented internationally.
School improvement has been at the heart of his career, working as an LLE, a School Improvement Partner, Professional Partner as well as an Ofsted inspector and mentor for trainee inspectors.